On November 6th, In protest of the brutal Soviet crackdown on the attempted Hungarian revolution, Spain and the Netherlands declared a boycott of the Games, to be joined later by Switzerland (Switzerland!). With that dubious inspiration, a few days later, in response to and protest of the Suez Crisis, Egypt, Lebanon and Iraq declared their own boycott. And finally, China (The People's Republic of) boycotted just before the Games when China (er, Taiwan) was allowed to compete as an independent nation.
The result? The number of athletes participating in the Games dropped from four years earlier, by more than 1,500. A good result? Described as a response to frustration as seeing the Games used as a political platform, proposed by local schoolboy John Ian Wing, the Closing Ceremony featured athletes entering and celebrating together - rather than separated by nation - to recognize for a moment the bringing together of people through sport and without boundaries.
I'm a big fan of that last bit. How ironic, then, that without the intrusion of politics and these first boycotts, that tradition may never have started. The threat of boycotts hasn't ended, and neither has the impulse to use the Games as statements. I can't see that ever changing. And, to be honest, I'm not sure I would. Without a minimum of political discussion and impact, we wouldn't have a spotlight on dubious hosts like Beijing and Sochi. While I look forward every two years to the ideal of forgetting about the real world, I recognize the importance of using a visible and public voice to express discontent. Does that mean I support a boycott? No - and thankfully there hasn't been one since 1988. As Sochi dissenters showed, that voice can be carried in other means in today's ready news era. There's no denying that the 1956 Games marked a milestone in using sport as protest. But let's hope that that specific mark of boycotting has passed.